Mawaru Penguindrum (輪るピングドラム) Anime

October 30th, 2011

Three young people – a sickly sister, Himari, and her two older bothers, Kanba and Shouma, who love and adore her, find themselves cast into a spiral of ever-weirdening events when Himari dies in the hospital.

A bizarre hat confers life and power to Himari, elaborately transforming her into…well, we’re still not sure who she is now…. Shouma and Kanba are required by this entity to find the “Penguindrum.” The story of what the Penguindrum is, and why it is important, is the entirety of the plot and I refuse to attempt to simplify it for this review. ^_^  The quest for the Penguindrum involves Shouma’s classmate Ringo, Ringo’s late older sister Momoka, a teacher in Shouma and Kanba’s school, and his wife, Takarisienne (or something awfully similar) Yuri.

If you are among those who find Mawaru Penguindrum (輪るピングドラム) confusing, please take a moment to read this post first. The Tl;dr version is – read more. You will learn allegory, symbolism and how to follow an non-linear plot. Reading helps us understand storytelling. In this case, the plot is a series of puzzle pieces that are shifting around and will, with time, resolve into a picture. Don’t be impatient, don’t try to second-guess. Just sit back and let the story be told.

For those viewers who have seen Revolutionary Girl Utena, many of the stylistic properties and several of  the memes illustrated in Mawaru Penguindrum, will be familiar. This is not surprising, as they share the creative impetus of Ikuhara Kunihiko (@ikuni_noise on Twitter.)

Of course I wouldn’t be reviewing this series here if there weren’t at least some Yuri. Yuri, voiced by Noto Mamiko – who really gets to stretch her range here – is not randomly named at all. That’s all I’ll say, to avoid spoilers that are impossible to talk around. These episodes were pretty much the turning point in the series.

There also a number of other elements I like in this series – no one will be surprised to learn I like murderous Natsume Masako, the Takarazuka parodies, the “best of” cast. Seriously, this voice cast has one of everything. Inoue Kikuko, Fukami Rica!!!! (Sailor Venus to all of you….) of course we’d expect Koyasu Takehito somewhere in this and he is, Paku Romi and Noto Mamiko, and Ishida Akira, and Horie Yui…… So clearly, he’s drawing from 6 degrees of Yuri, past, present and probably future.

So…what is Mawaru Penguindrum about? Well, like so much of Ikuhara’s work, it’s about the delusions in which we wrap ourselves, and the effects those delusions have on the people around us. And, it’s about the veil of those delusions being stripped from our eyes.

When I was in Japan just last month, this series was everywhere, so clearly a raging marketing success. I’m really hoping that someone brave will pick it up here for license. I favor TRSI, as they’ve already gotten us Utena, and I’d love to see them pick this up. I never say this, but, I’d cough up for the Blu-Ray even. The animation is good to awesome.


Art – 9
Story – 10
Characters – 9
Yuri – 7
Loser Ikuhara Fan – 8

Overall – 9

I’m so glad to Ikuhara is stretching his wings on this series. It feels un/comfortable in perfect proportion and I am looking forward to it with the same edge-of-my-seat anticipation I had for Utena. I wonder where it will go next?

Send to Kindle

17 Responses

  1. Eric P. says:

    Sounds to me like Kunihiko Ikuhara has come back with a bang, with all the bells and whistles that makes his style unique. It’s just too bad it’s not legally streaming anywhere at the moment, so all I can hope for is a future license.

  2. @Eric P. To some extent, I think it’s a function of Time. It’s been more than 10 years since Utena, and a whole new audience is being wtf-ed by his tricks. ^_^

    I’m also glad to see that he’s managed a creative, unique story with the same style we enjoyed in Utena.

  3. dmunder7 says:

    I’ve been looking forward to reading what you have to say about this series. Watching it has sent me off to (finally) watch TRSI’s well-timed release of Utena — watching the two series simultaneously makes for an interesting contrast.

    (Apropos your worthy 2009 post: this series has also sent me off to the two Murakami works loosely related — the short story “Super frog saves Tokyo” (the book Himari was seeking in the library) and Murakami’s Underground, interviews with the victims of the Aum Shinrikyou sarin gas attack. This happens to me a fair amount: Gankutsuou led to The Count of Monte Cristo; Nausicaa led to The Odyssey and Robert Graves’ wonderful Homer’s Daughter.)

    A couple of minor nits: her name is Himari, and Tabuki teaches at Shouma and Kanba’s school (Ringo attends a girls-only school).

  4. @dmunder7 – I still haven’t taken the plunge into Murakami’s novels, although I really should. I’m still holding out for Dazai’s No Longer Human, first.

    Thanks for the corrections! Ypu are quite correct. I’ll fix those.

  5. Andrew says:

    Electrifying, isn’t it?

  6. dmunder7 says:

    Re: Murakami, I’ve read a few of his novels (watching Haibane Renmei sent me off to read Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world and The Wind-up bird chronicle, plus i’ve read a few others) but I’m afraid I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I keep going back to his books, though.

    A friend recommends his short stories (so “Super frog” might be the right place to go next, not just for its putative relevance to Penguindrum).

  7. J says:

    There are elements in the directional style of penguindrum that (while I do not happen to have read any evidence of this) lead me to wonder whether Ikuhara was influenced by Shinbou (Akiyuki) in any way. I would find that interesting, as I have often questioned (but again, never found anything to confirm) whether certain tricks of Shinbou’s were inspired by Ikuhara.

  8. Cryssoberyl says:

    Penguindrum is glorious, and truly, only Ikuhara could be making it. This ecstatic mixture of fetishes and imagery, the metaphors and non sequiturs, the fiendishly clever plot pacing and spot-on comic timing…it all feels so familiar, and so perfect.

    This is the first I’ve heard that the show is doing well in Japan, though. That’s great news. I always regretted that Ikuhara vanished from the industry after making Utena, and hopefully with a success in Penguindrum, we could hope to see more new works of his in future.

  9. @Cryssoberyl – Ah, the old fan wank – if we don’t see him, he’s not there. ^_^ He didn’t disappear from the industry at all, you just didn’t happen to hear of him.

    After Utena, Be-Papas went on to do a manga series called “M&N no Sekhai” and then he worked on a stage play and a transmedia piece. He came here to the US to study Japanese, and promote Utena for a few years in the middle.

    He worked with other groups, as well. Recently, he animated the opening of Aoi Hana.

    So, from his perspective, he hardly “disappeared.” ^_^ He’s been working this whole time.

  10. Cryssoberyl says:

    I’m well aware of all of that. I know about Schell Bullet as well. And he also did the opening for Nodame Cantabile. I do not need to be educated on his work history, and wouldn’t have made a statement on it without having done the research in any case.

    None of that changes the fact that he hasn’t directed or been heavily involved in another anime since Utena. That industry is the one I refer to, and it isn’t “fan wank” to consider that a vanishment, especially considering the huge successes he enjoyed in the 90’s.

    I’ve always felt that after both Sailor Moon and Utena, he would’ve been well-positioned to become one of anime’s top directors, among such others as Anno, Sato, and Shinbo. It remains a mystery to me that for whatever reasons, that didn’t happen.

  11. @Cryssoberyl – If you know his work history, then you know he didn’t disappear, he simply moved off in to other fields of endeavor, including fashion, for a while.

    Ikuhara does not seem the kind of guy who really wants to be a anime director of note – he wants to be an artist who occasionally deigns to create anime.

  12. dmunder7 says:

    @J: (comparison on Shinbo and Ikuhara): watching early Utena I’m not seeing the Shinboisms that people talk about, in terms of visual style. Penguindrum does have elements that remind me of some of Shinbo’s work, though.

    This touches a bit on Erica’s “read more” link — and that is “see more”. What’s present in both Ikuhara and Shinbo are directorial techniques you can find in a lot of (primarily European) live-action film (I’m told that Shinbo’s tricks (framing, palette, use of high-contrast), especially, look like things Dario Argento was doing twenty years before Shinbo). In addition to literary references and structures, there’s something to be said for visual literacy, as well (both in manga and anime).

    Back to Mawaru Penguindrum: one of the things I think worthy of note is how colorful and dynamic it all is. There’s some lovely use of color (I especially like the black-and-red train scenes).

  13. redfish says:

    I can confirm that the show is still seeing heavy ongoing marketing and some people I talked to who generally seemed more like a One Piece crowd were watching it. Also, the second volume (of three) of the novelization just came out, credited to Ikuhara and Takahashi Kei. As a good example of cross-promotion Erica has often talked about on the blog, the novelization was advertised in a leaflet that came with the latest volume of Otome Youkai Zakuro (which is drawn by Hoshino Lily). (Unfortunately, no more room in luggage despite already mailing nearly 10kg home earlier.)

    The first Bluray volume is out too, priced at a rather harsh 6837 yen (Amazon, after rebates).

  14. J says:

    I wish I could think of an example, but I can’t. They were small things that I would notice once in a while and say “hmm” about. I wasn’t aware that others had made such comparisons, in fact I don’t personally feel that Shinbo’s stuff resembles Ikuhara’s work on Utena all that much overall — there were just a few details here and there that I thought may have been borrowed.

    I can’t say I’m at all familiar with Argento’s work, so I guess I do need to “see more”. That said, I’ve always found that Shinbo’s visual style reminded me more of “static” media.

    Speaking of colour, I like penguindrum’s use of strongly coloured linework for effect (as opposed to being an element incorporated into the character design, which is also present) i.e. in the blue-infused hospital scene in episode 10. It’s not new, but penguindrum is doing it well.

    Another visual element I appreciate is how visually distinct the Takakura house is from everything else in the show. So much of it is yellow-tinged, pencil-outlined, and lacking the smooth, even colours of digital (or most traditional cel) work — it really gives it that cozy, nostalgic feeling.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I loved Utena, but by episode 15 I don’t see how this is anything but more negative Yuri or anti-Yuri. Yuri’s horrible abuse by her father, and saved by Momoka, okay. But drugging, applying rope bondage and attempting to rape (things ‘men’ do in real life) Ringo, before the damsel in distress is saved from the sick Yuri character by the prince Shouma, to which then Yuri states she “wishes she had that kind of passion”. And the idea that the psychological effects of her dad’s abuse had on her (she’s unable to love anyone, man or woman, except Momoka) is then causal and mental illness, so where is the Yuri. I’m sorry, I’m just tired of the negative portrayals in Yuri in anime lately, done by men of course, and Japanese men of all things, the in your face and all the subtle layers of misogyny are getting painful. This seemed like the typical male Japanese messages, in youth “its a silly meaningless phase” or “the problamatic woman who as a lesbian is dangerous to decent meek girls and is simply mentally ill”…Why does it seem to be getting worse like another anime-manga Yuri backlash? But, I’m not you, so with this series am I missing something? Or is it to be more of the same.

  16. @Anonymous – Your point is valid, the stereotypes portrayed by Yuri are quite negative. That there was a reason for it (abusive father) really doesn’t make Yuri’s actions any less nasty.

    However, as with most Ikuhara works, everyone is broken to some extent.

    The difference is this:

    “In this case, the plot is a series of puzzle pieces that are shifting around and will, with time, resolve into a picture. Don’t be impatient, don’t try to second-guess. Just sit back and let the story be told.”

    I am waiting for the story to be told before I make any decisions on it. It has elements I like right now and I may not “like” Yuri by the end, but I won’t know until the story is told.

  17. Maria says:

    Definitely an interesting anime -I’m almost as hooked on it as I was on Kannazuki no Miko when it aired years ago, really few stories do this. Usually only yaoi can these days.

    Glad Ikuhara’s giving me something different. Not new, certainly, but different.

    Just hope Yuri turns out better than she seemed a while back, and that the fanservice stops annoying me. It’s not even much, but it keeps pestering me. I don’t really need buttshots of the “Princess of the Crystal”‘s bathing-suited behind.

    I’d personally give it a 8/10 so far.
    Which is the highest I’d rate any anime within the last five years.

Leave a Reply